2. I Discovered Fire
I hit hard. The shrubs offered no cushion to the fall from the portal. In fact, just the opposite. Instead of simply hitting hard, open ground, shrubs offered its thorns for my legs and back, while the red berries spewed its contents all over my white shirt. I sat dazed for a moment, assessing the state of my body. I extracted what seemed like hundreds of thorns. I wiped my face clean of the red berry juice. I took stock of my bones: no breaks, but plenty of bruises. The scrapes and cuts were raw, but manageable. A Band-Aid and some antibacterial cream would take care of them. Wait. There are no Band-Aids. There are no tubes of antibacterial cream. For a second I almost forgot. I am no longer in 2010. I am in the Stone Age and already experiencing pain. This was going to be an adventure like never before. An adventure I was already having serious doubts about.
I pulled myself up with the assistance of a nearby boulder. On my feet, I regained my senses and took a look around. My surroundings were similar to me. I had been here before. Last time I was here I was only twelve years old, but remember the scene like it was yesterday. The thick bushes had not changed. The green grass was still here. The woods off into the distance remained large and full of enormous animals, just like I remembered from my first trip to this uncivilized place. Not in a million years had I thought I would be returning. But now was not the time to dwell on the past and what may or may not have happened. Now was the time for me to move and to begin my first task on this harrowing adventure. I needed to find a tribe because there was something in the back of my mind telling that my task here was to discover fire. What else could it be? My task is to help these people and what could help them more than discovering fire.
Off into the distance I could see them. They were gathered around something. The tight circle they formed concealed the identity of what was in the middle, which drew the attention of everyone. Every so often, an arm would flail wildly up into the air, then drop with a thunderous jolt. Then another arm, then another. The hands and arms rained down on the object, each time the hand redder than before. Intrigued more than scared, I made my way closer to them. I had no reason to be afraid of these savage, wild beings. Nothing in the past told me they were dangerous. I would be with them. I would work with them. I would hunt with them. And hopefully, together, we would discover fire, allowing me to pass this first test and move on. The possibility of failing in this adventure had never entered my mind. Until now. Looking at the tribe, I seriously wondered how I would ever be able to communicate with these people. How would they have any idea what I was saying? How would I have any idea what they were saying? It was all a bit perplexing and nerve-racking for I risked failing on my very first task and losing my opportunity to save the Tiger.
I pushed thoughts of doubt and failure out of my brain as I approached my tribe. They acknowledged me with a grunt and a head nod, showing me that they knew I was with them and that I was accepted. I responded back with a similar head nod, but without the grunt. Perhaps over time I would learn the ways of the Neanderthal grunt, but for now, I decided to stick with the nod. Being that I was up-close to the group, I could see how unbelievably different I looked from them. In fact, I let out a casual laugh thinking about the scene. In this group of beings there was me, a six foot-two inch, 205 pound eighteen year old, standing next to a bunch of people that didn’t even reach my shoulders. Indeed, I stuck out like a poodle in a hog barn. Besides their short nature, they all had thick, matted down beards full of dirt, mud, and who knows what else. The hair on their heads was much the same, dirty, smelly, full of bugs and maggots. Their foreheads protruded out like a little mountain range stretching across their eyebrows. Their eyes were sunken back into the skull. Their mouth was shaped in an odd way, like it didn’t exactly work correctly. They each had a different colored fur pelt draped over their shoulder. Some had light gray, possibly from a wolf or coyote. Some had a deep brown, which I guessed came from a bison. The fur didn’t completely conceal their rippling biceps, bulging pecks, and tough as leather feet. Their hands looked like they could wrap around my head and crush it like an egg. Though I had seen these people before, it took me a few moments to digest their unfavorable appearance. Seeing these people and getting a whiff of their stench made my stomach churn, on the edge of vomiting. Luckily, my stomach was empty.
I came to grips with their appearance which allowed me to focus on what they were all gathered around. From a distance, I was not able to tell what drew their attention. Now, I could clearly see it. They had all gathered around a beast of some sort and were tearing the flesh with intensity. The identity of this beast had long been lost as the tribe continued bashing the flesh and bones with their sharp stones and heavy clubs. A detached leg off to the side was the only clue as to the color of this beast. The golden yellow of the leg was all that remained as the rest of the fur had turned a deep, wet red. The head of this beast lay on the ground, split open wide, brains draped across the earth. The group savagely ripped the flesh from the bones. Immediately they would stuff it into their mouths. No cooking, no fire, just desperate, crazed eating. Though my stomach was empty, my hunger pains quickly faded witnessing the carnage. I had never seen such wildness and insanity.
The guts were all that remained of the animal as the tribe ended its meal. The meat was devoured, the bones made into tools, the fur dried and stretched for clothing. With the end of meal time, the tribe turned more of their focus towards me. Within my tribe, there was Unga, and elderly male who the tribe looked to for decisions. Elderly, however, is quite different in the Stone Age. Unga was only 40 years old, but here, that made him elderly. Dunga and Bunga were both middle aged, which meant they were in their twenties. Zunga, the youngest of the tribe, was only 9. Munga was the lone female. She was 30 years old. The only way I could tell Munga was a female was the fact that she had no beard. Other than that, she looked exactly like the males. I looked at these five members of the tribe and couldn’t believe this was the group I would be spending all my time with until my task was complete.
Light began to fade from the sky. Unga gave me a head nod, signaling it being time to leave the massacred animal and head back to the camp. The others, with their red stained mouths, joined us as we walked. As we weaved our way through the woods, we heard a loud, thunderous crack in the distance. The sky lit up for a second. Zunga jumped in fright. The sound seemed to come from ahead, so we continued on. We emerged from the woods and instantly saw what happened. In the middle of the clearing, a lone tree had been struck by lightning. It’s once massive trunk had been split in two like Paul Bunyan had dropped his mighty axe right down the middle. The six of us reached the tree, its bark charred, leaves singed. We noticed that there were pieces of bark lying on the ground, scattered about. These pieces were glowing red. I picked one up but dropped it immediately, the heat too much for my soft, innocent hands. Unga gave me a grunt and picked it up himself, the burning bark no match for his leathered, calloused hands. The others gathered up the rest of burning pieces and continued our walk towards camp.
On our way back to camp, Unga was able to relay to me the importance of the hot bark. He explained how they would use it to light torches on fire for the hunt. He also explained that though it would work, the torches would always go out. Even though they had fire, I knew that my task would be to help them improve it and understand it. The moment we reached camp, the tribe organized for a hunt. Despite the fact that most of them had just gobbled down pounds of raw meat from the decimated beast, they needed to hunt again for the rest of the tribe. Organizing for the hunt was not a complicated process. Basically, all they did was pass out the red hot pieces of bark and help each other light their torches. Finally, my torch was lit and we were set to go. Joining myself, Unga, Dunga, Bunga and Zunga were about twenty others. Munga, being female, was not allowed to go on the hunt. She needed to stay at camp where she would be safe. As we marched out of camp, Bunga tried explaining to me what we were hunting. From his frustrated grunts and motions, all I could figure out is that the animal was big and had something on their head. A deer, I thought.
The tribe had grown extremely silent as we made our way further into the woods. Not a single grunt, not a single sound. Even the walking was completely silent. It seemed as if they were all walking on air. The only rustling sound was me, for I had not quite mastered the art of stealth amongst tree branches and shrubs. Piercing glances from Bunga reminded me to be quiet. Bunga had been the most reserved member of the tribe. He was the last to acknowledge my existence; as if he resented the fact I was here. Dunga, the other twenty year old, met me with full acceptance right away, like we were long lost best friends. Zunga, the nine year old, was very playful and full of energy and enthusiasm. Unga, very serious, seemed as if his hard life had zapped the jubilation out of life. Living like this for forty years, how could it not, I thought.
The woods were extremely thick. The tree branches were full of leaves. Vision was restricted to only a few yards. I had been concentrating on being silent when I noticed I was the only one moving. The rest of the tribe had stopped dead in their tracks, motionless. The serious look on their faces was the only clue I needed to know that we had found what we were looking for; we had found what Bunga had been describing to me. I had thought we were hunting deer. I was wrong. Unga nodded to his left. I turned my gaze in that direction and saw the most powerful, intimidating beast I had ever seen. This was certainly no deer. This was far larger. It had the appearance of an elk, though I had never seen an elk like this. The animal stood nine feet tall. The antlers resting on its head had a wingspan of over eleven feet. It was an enormous, amazing looking beast. The tribe had totally turned their attention on this one single animal. I knew this would be the animal we would go after. Being the animal was extremely large, the tribe only needed one. If more joined the herd, then it was merely a bonus. I suddenly felt a surge of adrenaline as I saw Dunga tightened his grip on his torch, and narrow his gaze on the animal.
With speed I didn’t know the tribe possessed, every single one of them sprang for the beast. The tribe waved their torches wildly. Still a little taken aback by the size of the animal, I got a slow start in the chase. Using my own above average speed, I quickly caught up and joined in. Excitement replaced fear as I sprinted after the elk with my torch waving wildly. The animal, though three times as large as any one member of the group, feared the torches and took off away from the pursuing tribe. The chase was on. We continued sprinting as fast as we could. I began to feel a little pain in my lungs as the distance we had covered grew. The others seemed to feel no fatigue, as their pace seemed to quicken. The beast we were after was suddenly joined by three more. It appeared as if we would bring down all of them.
All of the members of the tribe were shouting, screaming, waving their torches wildly as they ran. They darted and weaved through the trees as smooth as a Olympic sprinter. They jumped over fallen logs, sprinted around holes. As we chased the animals, I noticed that we were not gaining on them. I began to wonder how long and how far we would continue the chase. As we moved through the woods, we came upon a clearing. It was a rock ledge with a waterfall on each side. The giant animals sprinted to the ledge and stopped. The tribe pushed through into the clearing and stopped as well. We were only thirty feet from the animals. It appeared as if I was the only one that needed to catch my breath. It was obvious that my fellow tribesman had done this before. I quickly realized the strategy for the kill. We would mount one more attack with our torches and scare the giant beasts off the cliff. They would plummet to their deaths, hitting the rocks fifty feet below. Again, I looked at Dunga. He tightened his grip, gritted his teeth, and readied himself for the final push. The others did the same.
Just as Unga was about to give the signal, each torch began to go out. One by one, the torches became useless, like a giant hand had come down from the sky and pinched the flame out. It must have been the moist air from the waterfall that caused the fire to go out. My torch was the last one to get distinguished. I looked at Dunga. His look of bravery and toughness had been replaced by a look of panic and dread. The others looked the same. Their once confident look now replaced by fear and anxiety. The giant animals also noticed the torches going out. They had no reason to be scared. The torch was the only thing that frightened them towards the edge of the cliff. With that threat gone, the giant animals turned and faced us. Unga began grunting, nodding, motioning for us to leave. I looked at Dunga. He uttered the first English word I had ever heard him say, “Run.” He said it with an icy stare in his eyes. With that, the tribe took off, again at full speed, in the opposite direction we had come. The giant beasts took off as well, but now the hunters had become the hunted. The giant beasts were much faster than we were this time, and closed the gap very quickly. I glanced behind my right shoulder and saw one of the giant beasts come upon Dunga. The beast lowered his head and swung his antlers in a violent motion upward, hooking Dunga in the back, just below the shoulder blade. The giant animal again swung his antlers up and flung Dunga like a rag-doll thirty feet away, crashing into the base of a tree. Dunga lay motionless, dead. I was able to keep ahead of the charging killers, but the rest of the tribe was not so lucky. Dunga had already been killed and Bunga was quick to follow. I saw it happen as I darted past. Bunga tripped over a log, falling to the ground. He was on his back, totally defenseless against the giant animal. The same beast that killed Dunga approached Bunga with rage in its eyes. It reared up on its hind legs, then lunged forward, then down, blasting its antlers through Bunga’s chest, splitting him open like a sledge hammer smashing a watermelon. Pieces of Bunga went everywhere; it was too much for me to handle. I vomited.
The chase finally stopped. It seemed as if the giant beasts were satisfied with their two kills and moved on. We stopped as well, seeing that we were no longer being hunted. We took stock of what was left of our tribe and slowly made our way back to camp. The tribe seemed to be unaffected by the deaths of Dunga and Bunga. It’s as if the tribe had become used to seeing death. It’s as if death had become as common of an occurrence as breathing for this tribe. Unga led the rest of the tribe away from the scene, leaving Dunga and Bunga to perform their last act on earth, providing food for the wild. In addition to the two deaths, many of us were also injured. Cuts from branches, scrapes from tree trunks and bleeding feet littered the tribe. Munga tended to the wounded as best she could. Unga and I sat by a fire that had been made. Munga first checked Unga and noticed a deep gash on his left biceps. Munga reached for some water and gently washed away the blood and dirt that had found its way into the wound. Once she was satisfied, she began trying to close the gash. In order to do this, she used a technique that had proved to be quite effective in trying to close wounds. Out in the woods, Munga had found this dark, sticky substance in one of the trees. Now, she held a stick with the end coated in the substance. It looked like syrup I would put on my Eggo waffles in the morning. I touched my tongue to the stick and immediately jerked away, for the taste was something awful. It was definitely not syrup. It was actually called resin and it came from pine trees. Munga used the substance to basically glue the wound together, hoping it would heal. She applied the sticky substances to Unga. Completing her work on Unga’s arm, she tossed the stick into the fire and that’s when I saw it. I stared at it in amazement.
As the stick with the resin hit the bottom of the campfire, it ignited as easy as a lighter being flipped on. A normal stick would not catch fire that quickly. I knew it had to be the resin coating the tip. No one seemed to notice. Had this been happening all this time, yet no one had paid any attention to it? I reached down and retrieved the burning stick from the campfire. I held it up in front of my face. The only segment of the stick burning was the resin coated tip. A rush of confidence and optimism flooded my body. I knew this was my ticket. I knew this is what would allow me to accomplish my task and move on to the next ancient world.
I motioned to Unga and Munga. Their ashen faces looked confused as I tried to relay my new found knowledge, the knowledge that would save their lives and change everything. I pointed at the burning stick. Unga gave me a blank look. Munga stared at the burning stick, her eyes covered with a shroud of confusion. I waved the stick, showing them the fire wouldn’t go out. The two remained motionless, not understanding. I began waving the stick wildly, shouting out: “Look! Can’t you see that? The fire won’t go out! The resin burns! The resin will keep your torches lit in the moist air!! See!?!? Why are you so stupid?!?! How could you not have already figured this out!?!?” Unga and Munga stepped back, shaken by my sudden outburst. They looked at each other with anxious looks. My yelling was pointless. They could not understand English.
I knew I had accomplished my task but in order to fully complete it and satisfy Buddha, I needed to make Unga and Munga understand how to use this knowledge. Just as it started to rain, it came to me. I made sure I had both of their attention then walked out of the hut and stood in the pouring rain. Munga motioned for me to come back, presumably not wanting me to get wet and sick. I shook my head as I stared at them with cold eyes. I again took the burning stick. I held it up into the sky and let the rain pour down. Unga and Munga saw it immediately. The fire held firm, continuing to burn. It was satisfying watching their expressions turn from utter disbelief to extreme jubilation. They yelled out, grunting and shouting, dancing around, hugging. I had not seen this level of emotion from these peculiar beings. I couldn’t help but smile. They understood. They finally understood that the resin burned like fuel and that now their torches would withstand the damp air by the waterfall. The hunt would be successful. The giant Elk were doomed.
Munga led Unga and I to the area in the woods were she would extract the sticky, gooey resin. I gathered that they had been using resin for quite some time, but only as a healing method. Now, resin had transformed into one of the most important tools the tribe had ever seen. We worked feverishly gathering as much resin as we could. Satisfied with the amount, Unga motioned us back to the camp. We lathered over twenty torches with resin and then lit them on fire. They burned beautifully. The others in the tribe looked at them, their eyes the picture of wild amazement. The hunters each took one, eager for the hunt, hungry for the kill.
The tribe started out, back into the woods that claimed the lives of Dunga and Bunga. Their eyes burned with revenge, their mouths yearned for meat. Slowly and methodically, we again made our silent trek through the woods. My stealth abilities had improved, which meant less scolding looks from Unga. Munga decided to join us, she insisted on seeing the new torches in action. I prayed the same fate of Dunga and Bunga would not befall her. I would not be able to handle seeing Munga ripped apart by the giant antlers.
Suddenly, Unga held up his hand. The rest of us noticed and quickly froze. There it was. The same giant beast that murdered Dunga and Bunga. The tribe stood motionless, each heart rate accelerating exponentially. Adrenaline raced through my veins and into my muscles. I gripped my torch, lowered my shoulders and stood ready. With a violent hand motion from Unga, the tribe leapt forward like race horses bursting through the gate to start a race. We charged powerfully through the woods. The giant beast saw this and bolted away. We charged with vigor in our legs that the giant beast did not see last time. We pushed forward, shouting, grunting and waving the torch. We approached the same clearing. We came upon the same waterfall. Again, the giant beast stopped, alone, on the edge of the cliff. We slowed as well, seeing that we had it surrounded. The tribe gave each other nervous glances, wondering if the resin-soaked torches would hold in the damp air. I tried to give them a look of confidence but wasn’t sure if they understood. After a moment, the torches were holding strong. We looked at each other, communicating non-verbally that this was the time. We charged again, making our last, desperate push for the kill. The giant beast saw the torches, still waving, still burning. With a sudden and unexpected move, the giant beast jumped off the edge of the cliff. We hurried to the edge, wanting to see with our own eyes the endgame of this hunt. We stood and watched the decent. The giant beast hurdled through the air, becoming smaller and smaller. With a dull thud, the giant beast reached the bottom. An awaiting boulder splattered the animal in all directions. The hunt was complete. I looked at Unga. His eyes met mine. Tears of sheer joy filled his eyes. He knew. He knew he and his tribe would be eating for days. He knew that this changed everything. They had fire. They had control. They had power.
As the tribe turned from the edge to make its way back to camp and to the awaiting feast, I noticed something in some brush a few yards away. It glistened in the sunlight. I approached it. I reached down and picked it up, holding the shiny, sparkling object that I had come for in my hands. It was my first golden coin. My first of eight total coins that I would need to earn in order to complete this adventure. My task had been accomplished; I had helped the tribe discover fire. Now I could leave. I looked at Unga, gave a nod of respect. I then turned my attention to Munga. I gave her a hug, knowing that despite the fact they had found power, I knew their lives would still be brutally hard and dangerous. They both turned away, leaving me alone, with my golden coin. I took the coin in my hand. I held it tight. I closed my eyes, focused all my attention and energy on one thing: the Tiger. Then, I was gone.